SoftLayer now supports more than 100 million active game players online worldwide, and has added 60 new gaming companies to its customer list in the last two quarters alone, the company said this week.
What’s SoftLayer’s secret sauce with gaming companies? In a world in which a couple of milliseconds of lag can be the difference between virtual life and death, and the inability to scale up with demand can kill a new game title, there is little room for failure on the part of the hosting provider. In the game hosting arena, success breeds success, allowing SoftLayer to build organic growth atop its track record.
The company has built a solid reputation via gaming conferences and word of mouth. "It’s kind of a tight knit space, and they all talk,” said Marc Jones, VP of Product Innovation at SoftLayer. Notable game developers among SoftLayer's customers include Hothead Games, Geewa, Grinding Gear Games, Peak Games and Rumble Entertainment.
“Game developers don’t have the time or resources to manage their own complex infrastructure because they need to focus on their core business – developing great games, launching on time and keeping players engaged,” said Jones. “Because we understand the high stakes of their operations, we’ve tailored our cloud platform to meet gaming companies’ demands – from initial game release and explosive, overnight growth, to the performance and availability demands that come with everyday play.”
SoftLayer provides these companies with the infrastructure to test, deploy, manage, play, and grow their games. SoftLayer's global infrastructure platform spans more than 100,000 servers in 13 data centers across the U.S. Europe and Asia. The company’s ability to provide bare metal (dedicated servers) combined with a low latency network is key to its its appeal.
Bare Metal vs. Public Cloud
"The ability to have hybrid solutions from a bare metal standpoint is perfect for a gaming world with a lot of real time interactions, multi-player and social aspects," said Jones, "There’s constant communication. A lot of the companies are capturing interaction points to understand how people are engaging, and using this info to help them tailor the experience. Bare metal gives you much better performance than public cloud, and they have the ability to use public to scale when needed during spikes."
In most of those cases, gaming companies are running a database on the backend, and that a lot of companies are leveraging NoSQL database options in particular, according to SoftLayer. One example of this is Hothead Games, which has released six games that have hit the Top 10 in both the Apple and Google Play app stores, including the BIG WIN Sports series of games and the recently launched Rivals at War. The company runs their back-end database, Cloudant, on the SoftLayer platform, enabling Hothead Games to scale massively and economically, handling billions of database transactions per-day while delivering a superior experience to gamers.
"From a compute standpoint, (bare metal cloud) is definitely what we see as an advantage," said Jones. "On equal footing is our network. Maintaining a private network that interconnects all our data centers is appealing." The company has its own private network, which allows it to deliver a predictable, low latency experience.
The company’s international presence is also a selling point. “A lot of our bigger gaming customers have a lot of servers deployed in multiple data centers," said Jones. "A few customers are active in Amsterdam, Singapore and the US.”
By all accounts the online gaming vertical continues to grow at a rapid pace. “We definitely see a lot of online games – Facebook style games, social games and mobile applications,” said Jones. "Those are the ones we’ve seen the most in the last six months to a year. We have hundreds of gaming customers, and the size of those customers is usually pretty substantial. They’ll build out that infrastructure, as they get popular.”
The company can’t disclose its largest customers, but provided examples of mobile, first person shooters (FPS), and MMO (massively multiplayer online) all of which have unique needs.
The Social Gaming Customer: Peak Games
Peak Games is the largest and fastest growing company in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa. With over 200 employees and 45 million gamers, it is one of the largest global social gaming providers. "The ability to add tens of thousands users overnight is the value of working with SoftLayer," said Safa Sofuoglu, CTO of Peak Games. "SoftLayer understands the needs of game developers. We can very quickly double our infrastructure requirements when one of our games take off, and easily manage and support new users without compromising on performance while not incurring massive costs. SoftLayer gives us the flexibility to utilize what we need without being locked in."
THE FPS: Ballistic
Rumble Entertainment has a first person shooter named Ballistic. With an FPS, low latency is of the utmost importance, with players obsessing down to the millisecond. These are games of accuracy and precision. "We’re expanding our first-person shooter game Ballistic into Asian markets, and we wanted to partner with a cloud service provider that could deliver not only raw computing power but also high-quality network service," said Jim Tso, senior producer for Rumble Entertainment. "SoftLayer’s data center in Singapore and global network footprint help us overcome any network latency issues, giving our users a great online experience."
THE MMO: Path of Exile
"Path of Exile is unique among online action RPGs (role playing games) because players play on one large international realm," said Chris Wilson, managing director for Grinding Gear Games. "SoftLayer's data centers on multiple continents, and the free bandwidth between them, let us run servers local to the individual players while still allowing them to play with their international friends if they choose to,” said Chris Wilson, managing director for Grinding Gear Games. SoftLayer's ability to provision new servers quickly allowed us to deal with the immense demand we faced when we launched Path of Exile's Open Beta. We're extremely pleased with SoftLayer and the server reliability that it allows us to offer our customers."